MONROE — The newly-minted Special Events Center opened on Thursday, July 22, with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Union County Commissioners Richard Helms (chairman) and Jerry Simpson spoke as well as Assistant County Manager Patrick Niland. Dr. Dale Monks with the N.C. State Extension, Kaleb Rathbone with the NC Department of Agriculture and Shawn Harding with NC Farm Bureau also shared their thoughts.

Helms said the center is a “huge economic opportunity” for Union County and it will provide ways for residents in the county and people from surrounding areas to spend time together by “leveraging rural roots for the benefit of all citizens.”

Helms said the Special Events Center had been a vision of Simpson’s for more than 30 years in the making.

In his speech, Simpson said he hopes the Special Events Center will be a place that instills an appreciation for agriculture while also serving as inspiration for future generations to enter the industry.

Returning to his alma mater (N.C. State University) not long after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences, Simpson “served on the faculty as an extension specialist, where he was responsible for the performance evaluation of swine at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton, NC. He continued with Extension as a cross-county livestock agent in Cabarrus County and then transferred to Union County in 1981. In 1998 he was named County Extension Director for the Union County Center and was responsible for administering education programs in Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences, Community Resource Development and 4-H Youth Development,” according to the Union County Government.

Simpson was first elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2010 and has served multiple terms since serving as Chairman and Vice-Chairman several times.

At the ceremony, guests were treated to appetizers, dinner and desserts prepared by three eateries — East Frank Superette, Dandelion and Friends Mercantile and Kate Clyde’s Catering. To highlight and promote the use of local produce and meats, ingredients for each of the dishes served came from nearby farms.

Ingredients were sourced from Parker Farms Cattle & Co., My Fellow Friends, Fancy Farms, River Bottom Diary, Alexander Family Farm, Peaceful Meadows Farm, Boy & Girl Farm and Five Forks Organics.

Guests dined on pork tenderloin with peach chutney and squash casserole from Kate Clyde’s.

They were served cheddar garlic chive mini biscuits with tomato dipping oil, bacon pimento cheese with rosemary sourdough crackers, assorted cookies, banana pudding, cucumber infused water and lemonade from Dandelion and Friends Mercantile.

East Frank Superette prepared a vegetarian option for guests — cajun spiced mushroom scallops over creamy Marsh Hill Speckled grits topped with local green tomato chow chow. They also prepared a side salad with baby spinach tossed in a champagne vinaigrette with goat cheese, local blueberries and local fried shallots.

The new facility is focused on catering to families and the local agricultural community. There, families and friends can come together to enjoy fun activities in addition to being a space where the North Carolina Cooperative Extension can host 4-H livestock shows, rodeos, specialty sales, equestrian events as well as equipment trade shows and demonstrations.